Luxury Travel Bible‘s formidable founder and Editor in Chief Hilary Doling is a woman after our own hearts. Well-travelled, well-read and well-versed in the high-threadcount trappings of luxury travel, she kindly pressed pause on her champagne-tasting, helicopter-flying, wildlife-spotting, Charleston-soundtracked life (sheesh, somebody get me her job!) to give Mr & Mrs Smith a whirlwind tour of some of her most memorable luxury-travel moments…
Luxury travellers these days are seeking experiences not just 400-thread count sheets and 24 hour butler service. Here are some of my more memorable luxury travel moments.
THE BEST CHECK-IN I EVER HAD…
….was when I stepped off the edge of a mountain into mid-air. Luckily I was strung under a particularly attractive Frenchman at the time, paragliding over jagged rocks and a Berber-blue sea. Far below me was Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay, and I was experiencing the resort’s optional check-in by tandem paraglider: the ultimate way to make an entrance.
God knows what made me try it; the French instructor may have had something to do with it. The unconventional check-in is just one of the elements that make this resort special. Another is its location, surrounded by barren mountains on a secluded half-moon of sand on the Musandam Peninsula in the far north Oman.
Six Sense Resorts and Spas is known for seminal resorts and at Zighy Bay, you’ll find the same level of eco-friendly luxury, innovative design. Individual private villas built from local stone make the resort look almost like an Omani village. As I walked across the hot sand to my room local goats were staring lovingly at their own reflection in the hotel pool, completely at home in the luxury surroundings. On my last evening, having discovered I had a head for heights, I ate at Dining on the Edge, a restaurant perched at the top of the mountains, and looked down on the bay as the sunset turned the rock the same colour as my pink champagne… perfect.
AFRICA’S MOST STYLISH SAFARI
I love the combination of wilderness and pampering you get at some of the luxury safari camps in Africa. When the sun sets it can be a flaming orange ball taking up half the sky. There is nothing quite like stopping your luxury safari four-wheel-drive for a sundowner with the roar of lions in the distance and the vast African bush all around. The drink of choice on such occasions is of course gin and tonic, easy on the ice.
One of my favourite camps is Royal Malewane in South Africa‘s Kruger National Park: it is completely over the top, with Persian carpets, claw-foot baths and antiques in the middle of the bush.
When I stayed, Elton John and David Furnish had been in the Royal Suite just before me. Furnish wrote ‘Bliss, bliss, bliss’ in the guestbook, and I have to agree. The pair were regular visitors but when they returned I doubt they read my entry as avidly as I read theirs. I doubt my safari gear was as flamboyant either (visions of Elton and leopard print come to mind…).
THE WORLD’S BEST HELICOPTER FLIGHT
When I was staying at the newly opened Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown New Zealand recently (a ‘must’ by the way), I took what has to be one of the best helicopter flights, ever. Louisa (Choppy) Patterson’s sleek ‘copter is the most elegant of beasts, all grey leather seats and black as obsidian – very James Bond. It took off from the side of Lake Wakatipu up across the impossibly green glacial lake, over white mountains to land in a swirl of snow on a slither of rock called The Ledge. The views were spectacular.
We picnicked on the very edge – no more champagne for me thanks – to the sound of a scratchy 78rpm records played on a wind-up gramophone that Choppy had somehow lugged up there. It was completely surreal and only the ice (and the drop) stopped me doing the Charleston.
By then, I had a sneaking suspicion that Choppy had a wicked sense of humour as well as a passion for the wilderness. A suspicion confirmed when we lifted back off to the sound track of Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ in our headphones and dropped dramatically towards the lake. Apocalypse Now has nothing on this chick. No wonder the outfit is called Over the Top helicopters. …
MOST OTHER-WORLDLY EXPERIENCE…
Banyan Tree Ringha in Yunnan Provence in China is luxury in isolation. Its suites are rebuilt Tibetan houses; all dark carved wood with luxurious red lacquer bathrooms downstairs where the livestock would have been, and a massive bedroom up stairs where once a whole family would have lived.
It is a beautiful location and at 11,000 feet (3,200 metres) above sea level in the Tibetan protectorate the place takes your breath away in more ways than one. My most memorable moment was climbing the hundreds of steps up to a tiny temple nearby, spinning dozens of prayer wheels as I went. At the top the temple was little more than a dirt floored shack with chickens running in and out of the smoke from burning incense but it was an incredibly spiritual place. People had strung hundreds of prayer flags from the trees and they flapped like Buddha’s washing in the breeze.
THE ULTIMATE IN RELAXATION…
There is nothing more relaxing than sailing the backwater canals of Kerala on a rice boat. Our luxury boat had three bedrooms downstairs and an upper sun deck where we spend most of the time watching the canal banks drift by, a moving magic lantern show of coconut palms, banana trees, flapping washing and the odd bewildered sacred cow. In the evening our boat drifted out into the middle of Lake Vembanad. Everything was a Whistler watercolour of muted blues. As we gently dropped anchor the crew asked if we’d like to hear some music. The soft grey twilight was draping itself over the lake like a Pashmina shawl, and we imagined haunting Hindi folksongs floating out across the water as the light faded.
Minutes later, Waltzing Matilda, sung in what the CD cover claimed was an aboriginal dialect, blasted out at full volume; closely followed by La Cucaracha in Spanish and Swing Low Sweet Chariot in no known language, possibly Swahili. Not quite what we had in mind, but this is what I love about India, a place where an undercurrent of eccentricity always simmers below the surface; I’ve had some mad moments there. Our rice boat was one run by Taj hotels, but Malabar Escapes (who run the boutique hotel Malabar House) have a great boat, too.
– Hilary Doling, The Luxury Travel Bible
Wish you were there? Become a GoldSmith member for access to Mr & Mrs Smith’s luxury concierce, who can take care of every element of your travels, from boutique-hotel bookings to once-in-a-lifetime experiences (including cruising Kerala’s backwaters, aerial check-ins and dramatic helicopter flights)…